Wood’s Greatest Enemy – Water

A lot of people think and grumble whenever they see precious dollars from the CPA fund going for roofing.      The Newburyport Art Association – new roof, the Masonic Lodge – new roof and the Custom House – new roof, St. Paul’s – new roof on their chapel and so on.      You would think the fund was setup for the roofing industry!      

Yet, the money was well spent.      Our ‘wooden’ historic district’s greatest enemy is the intrusion of water.       Right now, the Powder House is being renovated.      First order of business?   You guessed it.   It was the roof.     

In historic homes, a good roof is paramount to stop wood rot and that most hideous sight: black mold.     These homes  are designed to last for ages but their great Achilles’ Heel is water damage.      It can take massive oak beams and make them worthless and take wide-plank floors and rid them of their strength.

In addition to the roof itself, because of our harsh winters, it is extremely important to close gaps between the roof and the outside wall.     A great roof can become an excellent delivery system for water that then runs inside the walls soaking the wood and opening it to mold and insects.    In addition, windows need to be examined to make sure no water is seeping in between them and the wall.      Caulking is extremely important whenever a crack or gap is found.   A secondary advantage is energy efficiency.      As much as product-motivated salesman will tell you your energy loss comes from the windows, the truth is much more energy is lost from the area around the windows.      In addition to storms, good insulation and sealing needs to be done to stop heat loss.

As for rotting wood, there is hope.      You can, of course, rip it all out or you can restore the strength by special cleaners and wood restoration epoxies that make the wood strong again.      The years of carpenter ants and powder-post beetles had made the structural beams of the Little House in Newbury largely hollow.      They could have resolved the problem by huge beam replacements.      Instead, Historic New England filled the empty spaces with an epoxy filler and then used wood restoration chemicals to restore strength to the outside.       This gave them authenticity without seeing the entire structure lose integrity.

Just because a prior owner didn’t take care of your priceless historic home, shouldn’t cause you to throw in your towel and replace everything with new.     The goal is to add value to your home and increase your equity.      By gutting the house and renovating, you are throwing away huge amounts of money.     It would be better and you’d receive a much larger home to buy property in suburbia and start building new!     

You invested in a smaller ‘historic’ home because it was unique.     With advice from sensitive architects, consultants, contractors and carpenters who understand historic structures, decisions can be made as to what has to be replaced and what can be restored – always looking toward the goal of enhancing the value of the home.

If you want your home to be bug resistant and to shine out as a fine example of our National Heritage, make sure water doesn’t get in whether through the roof, the walls, the windows and even in the basement*.     Water is an historic preservationists worst enemy!(More so than an evil developer!)

In my own several-decade experience, a wet basement had to be tackled to stop mold.    A leaking roof with ice-build up at the leading edges caused water to run down the inside of the walls and a previous owner’s cheap modern window in the attic disintegrated opening gaps so water could flow inside the walls, causing carpenter ants and bees to flourish to which much tearing out of wood had to be done just to get to the evil buggers.    I know first hand how evil water can be!

-P. Preservationist

PS.    Under the Newburyport Preservation Craftsman Directory, there is a section that lists companies that provide wood restoration products.   

* sump pump information

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About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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